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Access to farmland is a 2023 Farm Bill priority for aspiring farmers

Access to farmland is a 2023 Farm Bill priority for aspiring farmers

DOSWELL—Prohibitive costs, encroaching development and sluggish bureaucratic processes lead to land-access barriers for young, beginning and underrepresented farmers.

Some rural development programs in the federal farm bill are designed to improve access to farmland, and farmers hope the omnibus spending package is reauthorized this year.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, recently met with more than 100 Virginia farmers and other agriculture industry representatives at a 2023 Farm Bill Summit, held in partnership with Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“We’re seeing a lot of young, new and beginning farmers,” said Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Rachel Henley, who farms with her husband in Goochland County and serves on the VFBF Young Farmers Committee. “We need more programs coming out of the farm bill to help with land access, farmland preservation and competition with development and solar facilities.”

At last year’s VFBF Young Farmers Summer Expo, the organization conducted a “Next Generation Farmer” survey. When asked to rank eight challenges facing new farmers, 75% of respondents indicated land access as the No.1 or No. 2 obstacle they face. Sixty-nine percent of respondents indicated the same for access to capital and financial investment. They also reported facing a lack of resources and grant or loan opportunities for small farmers due to acreage requirements.

Halifax County farmer Adam Davis, who also serves on the VFBF Young Farmers Committee, said price hikes on inputs and land are prohibitive, especially for non-generational farmers.

“There was a whammy on input costs in general, and also the capital to buy farmland, because of the influx of people from outside of rural America moving into it,” he said. “That’s challenging for those who want to get into ag but might not have the established space.”

The slow pace of getting federal applications processed adds to the barriers, said Fauquier County farmer Ben Smith, a representative of Farm Credit of the Virginias Young, Beginning & Small Farmers group.

“With those turnaround times—it’s not the way modern business works,” he said, adding, “Farm Credit of the Virginias board decided they will allot 5% of their total available funding to higher risk-loans aimed at young and beginning producers looking for credit.”

In addition to adequate, expedited funding, panelists said more USDA staff support is needed to maintain successful programs.

“There are many different places we can look at making tweaks,” said Spanberger, who is serving a third term representing Virginia’s 7th District. “And there are ways to ensure or encourage faster turnaround times, so a farmer who wants to purchase land has the approvals to do it in a timeframe to be competitive in the marketplace. Some of these are not about dollar amounts, but flexibilities wholly relevant to the elements of the legislation and adjustments we’re making to the farm bill.”

Media: Contact Connor Joseph, representing Spanberger’s office, at 202-384-5425; Henley at 804-598-5640; Davis at 434-222-8741; or Smith at 540-212-8023.